What I Learned from Our Series on Suffering

fontcandy (1) copy 3Although our Series on Suffering officially concluded last week, I’m compelled to share how I was personally changed over the past few weeks. My hope was to help others — either those in agony or those watching another suffer. By posting updates from four years after the initial story, I hoped to point toward perseverance. There’s something about seeing another’s redemption that helps you reach out your hand when you’re drowning. But once again, I found transformation in the mirror.  I entered the series as the facilitator, but I left the student.

I learned…

… Everyone has a story. Everyone. Why do I forget this? Life would be so much richer and more meaningful if I stopped to listen. If I pursued. If I slowed down enough to be a safe place for others. I must remember the faces in my life have identities. Everyone has so much to say.

… People grieve differently.  There’s no consistent, proper way to get real and deal with pain. Yes, there are common rhythms of grief. But I can’t put people in boxes and expect them to convey their distress a certain way. Some friends are more emotional while others are more rational. There’s beauty in this kind of diversity. Why bring judgment into someone’s healing process?

… It’s cowardly to remain silent amidst another’s pain. The fear of offending someone absolutely can not supersede our practice of living in community. Loving others requires us to feel awkward sometimes. I absolutely must get over myself.

… I whine too much. You see, all those thoughts harbored deep within, whether they pour forth from my lips or not, reflect where I’m at. Proverbs 23:7 makes it clear: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (NLV)  I’m too self-centered… period… in my peer relationships, my marriage, my parenting. Especially my parenting. There’s nothing like hearing another’s story to put your own in perspective.

… I must fight to prevent my body image issues from impacting my children. I know the standards of 21st century American beauty —  for women and men. I see it everyday at the check-out lane, in Athleta catalogs that invade my mailbox, on television commercials, in the lies I uncover in my own thoughts. I must commit to not complain about the way God made me in front of my son and daughter. I want my children to grow up knowing they’re beautifully created and knowing their identity is in what Christ did for them on the cross. As our world has become smaller through technology, unfortunately our infatuation with one type of beauty has grown bigger. I must fight our culture no matter how daunting the task seems.

… Redemption often looks different than I would have imagined. I believed this already, but I’m convinced even more after presenting these four stories. We pray and claim and beg — and even tell God what to do — and His answer is often different than our original hopes. But He’s purposeful. And He often uses radical, painful situations to convey His counter-cultural message. Regardless, I’ve seen him bring beauty and life to a dying heart. As Jeremy Bedenbaugh, a local St. Louis pastor, says, “Only where the graves are is there resurrection.”

I know God will continue to uncover more lessons for me. And hopefully for you, too. I don’t know what struggle will stare me in the face tomorrow. But for now, I have much to ponder — suffering, healing, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus. Come to the darkest parts of our stories.

Series on Suffering: Losing A Spouse (Update)

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We resume Susan’s story of losing her first husband with an update. A lot can happen in four years — especially when you’re adjusting to a new marriage, raising middle schoolers, forging new paths in your career, and getting to know a new community. Read on…


How has your situation changed in the past four years?

Oh, so much change! I’ve now been remarried to Todd for almost six years, and three years ago, God called us to a great adventure, which included moving our family to Kansas City. New city, new church, new jobs, new friends. Now three years out, I can see how God has pushed me to corners of myself that I didn’t even know existed. I’m so grateful for the growth and refinement.

One of the biggest changes for me has been my job. I’m a bit of a nomad when it comes to my occupational pursuits, following my heart and God’s leading, and I’ve never been disappointed as to what I have learned on my journey. After serving as a teacher in independent schools for many years, I’ve landed back in public education as a learning coach in a project-based learning environment designed to empower creativity and equip students to be architects of a better world. For years, I’ve had ideas and desires to transform the learning experience for all kids and, while in St. Louis, I continually encountered roadblocks. It was as though God kept saying, not yet. Now, He has given me the opportunity to pioneer forward and be a part of something transformative.

How have YOU changed in the past four years?

Besides the gray hairs and wrinkles, over the last four years, God has continued to refine and humble me. The older I get, the more I understand my depravity and my need for a Savior. The first year we moved to Kansas City felt much like moving to a desert. Lots of anger, resentment, grief, pride. It was a lonely year for me trying to figure out who I was as a mother, as a wife, but, most importantly, who I was as a child of God. I no longer lived in the comfort of my hometown, my community of friends, nor my job – three things that had shaped so much of my adult life.

It’s been a rather arduous journey, but God has been faithful to continue His work in me to transform my heart. As much as I want to think “I’m all grown up and finally arrived at maturity,” I would be deceiving myself. Every uncomfortable situation I encounter, every painful trial I face, every joyful moment I experience–I’m learning more about the power and work of Christ in my life.

What are you still wrestling with?

Two of my greatest sin patterns are anxiety and fear. At times, I think, “Really, Susan? With everything God has done for you?” But, like faceless thieves, they creep in periodically, stealing my attention away from God. Some of my biggest fears and anxious thoughts are about my children. As my boys have grown, I see God’s hand in their lives, but I also see the effects of trauma and loss at such an early age. I tend to brace myself with the worse possible scenario, seeing the future through my human eyes. I continually redirect my thinking to God’s sovereignty and His abundant love for my children.

How have you seen redemption come from your suffering?

As a teenager, I used to think redemption meant “God sweeps in, God fixes problem, we thank Him, and life continues.” At 16, suffering meant the disappointment of not making the lead in the musical or wishing the boy I liked returned my affections. Thankfully, I’ve grown. One of the greatest takeaways from my suffering has been a deeper understanding of God’s redemptive hand in our lives. Understanding redemption, at least how I make sense of it, is believing and living the gospel. Though I will never feel nails in my hands nor wear a crown of thorns, I have learned that the more I lose and suffer in this world, the more I gain in understanding the redemption story. His sacrifice on the cross, His pursuit of my heart, His faithfulness in all my earthly sufferings—there I have known grace and redemption and love and compassion.

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So there you go — open and raw honesty for the past four weeks. While four stories and updates provide a window into the lives of ordinary men and women, I’m convinced many of you are doing more than peering through the glass. Maybe you have been cut by its jagged edges and could tell similar stories.

It’s never easy to read a story of brokenness and know you could be writing it, too. But recognizing is the first step toward claiming hope, toward believing that redemption really can happen.

A few years ago I sat in a class about doubting God’s goodness due to the rampant brokenness in the world. Oppression. Injustice. Invasions on our mortality. Reminders of our fragility. Fear.

While I can’t say I understand the mind of God with any more clarity, I did walk away speechless.  The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter. Did you catch that? The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter.

But unlike human suffering, our Author suffered with power. He could have defeated or even prevented His own suffering. But He wrote scene after scene in which He Himself was abandoned, misunderstood, mocked, tortured, betrayed.

So where do we go from here? What we do with the stories of Matthew, and Jami, and Julie, and Susan?

I dare you to look inward today. By seeing our own pain mirrored in these stories, we walk in realness. And that’s the first step toward healing. How can we ask for redemption when we’re not authentic about how our lives have really turned out? And how our situations – and hearts – are crumbling around us?  And how we’re devastated?

Yes, be real. Be honest… first with yourself, and then with someone else. And then together, walk boldly into the mess and watch redemption take place. Watch God restore and re-create your story into something more beautiful than it ever was. His project may take years, but please check in with me during the restoration process. You’re not alone, and I’d love to hear how you’re doing… even on the hardest of days.

Stop by next week for a reflection on what I personally learned through this Series on Suffering. But for now,  take the ancient words of Isaiah with you: “My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you, just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth.”

Oh, to know the mind of God! But of this I’m sure — the pain of your heart is no surprise to your Maker. He embraced it Himself.

photo source | jen palmer

Series on Suffering: Losing A Spouse

LosingSpouseFrom the inner tension that comes with an eating disorder, we go to terminal illness.  A life taken from us is deeply painful, and our guest today also watched her husband physically suffer for several months before saying goodbye.  

I’m grateful for Susan’s honesty regarding questioning God, being angry, and finally surrendering. She ends her interview today with advice for those who know someone suffering from cancer. Join us as our Series on Suffering continues…


Christan: Susan, thanks for your willingness to wrap up our series on suffering. Tell us what your first husband was like.

Susan: I met Brian when I was 30 years old when I had just moved here from Los Angeles. We were both teachers, and we connected over writing and education and teaching kids how to write. We became instant best friends and were married eleven months later. From the first time I met him, I felt as though Brian and God had this “secret room” or something where they’d go and talk about life. He was so in tune with what God wanted for him, for us. That wasn’t my relationship with God. I struggled with being sure of what He wanted. Brian also preached grace everywhere. I think my understanding of grace deepened by knowing Brian.

Christan: How soon did you start your family?

Susan: Because we were a bit older when we got married, we wanted to start our family soon. Max was born two-and-a-half years into our marriage, and Briggs followed two years later. Much of our experience looked like the norm — falling in love, getting married, having children. I think, though, we were in a different place emotionally because of our age and life experiences before marriage. We had struggles, but our marriage was truly a partnership.

Christan: How soon did cancer enter your family?

Susan: Between July and December of 2004, Brian lost ten pounds… and this was with him eating a bowl of ice cream most nights. We really couldn’t understand where the ten pounds went. We assumed it was because of stress caused by a new baby and Brian’s new job. In December, he began coughing, and it lasted a couple months. I remember him walking up the stairs in March 2005 — he paused like an old man, out of breath, and said, “There’s really something wrong with me.  I can’t even make it up the stairs without stopping to catch my breath.”

Christan: How old was he?

Susan: He was 34 with no health issues except allergies. It all happened very fast. After going to the doctor, they put him in the hospital and did several tests to rule things out.  They discovered a massive dark spot in Brian’s pulmonary artery. It was right next to his heart, kind of right where everything happens. They didn’t know what the mass was so they immediately put him on blood thinners, thinking it could be a blood clot. Nothing changed. Then they moved him to a larger hospital followed by more blood thinners and more discussions with additional doctors. Some tests showed Brian was living on only ten percent of his lung capacity. Because he was so thin, he hadn’t dropped dead.

When he had surgery on a Monday, I was convinced all would be fine. But when the doctor came out of the surgery, he said, “Yeah, it was malignant.”

Everything stopped.

I didn’t sleep for 24-48 hours after surgery. Because I had babies at home, I couldn’t stay at the hospital all night. I remember picking up a magazine at home, trying to distract myself.  I opened it, shut it, and thought, “This just doesn’t matter.”  It was if the reality of the Gospel and heaven enveloped me. This life was suddenly not as tangible as I wanted to think it was.  It was clear there was something so much deeper than what what staring at me in the magazine pages.

From March to November, we were on the cancer roller coaster. We danced back and forth from hope to reality. I tried my best to navigate the medical world while potty training a three year old and convincing the world we were okay. I remember pleading with God to fix this situation. From debilitating treatments to helping my husband walk around our house — through it all, I just didn’t get it. But soon after he died, I often reflected, “Might it really be a gift to have watched that type of suffering?”

Christan:  How so?

Susan:  For one, I began to understand the mortality of our bodies. When Brian died, he took nothing with him… not his books, his paintings, nor his writings. What he left was his impact on others.

About five days before Brian died, I had finally reached my limit and was mad at God… really, really upset.

“Why won’t you fix this, God?” I dove into Job and came to those verses when God says, “Where were you when I made the world?”

I felt as though He pulled me into that “secret room” He had with Brian and gently said, “That’s enough, Susan. You are not going to get what you want.”  I think I knew at that point that Brian was going to die, but I also knew God was never, ever going to leave me.

After that conversation with God, I decided we were done with chemo, for it was so painful to watch someone go through that. I told Brian we were finished. His eyes got really big and then I noticed great relief. God was pressing on our hearts to prepare for his passing.  I now think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane asking if there was another way to save the world. God the Father was telling the two of us in that moment, “No, this is the only way.”  We couldn’t see past tomorrow, and it was terrifying. But I believe God wants all of our trust in what He’s designing.  Even Jesus in his humanity struggled with that sort of anticipation, with surrender. Brian died a few days later.

The moment he passed, I remember thinking, “Wow, I just watched him go into Heaven” instead of being overwhelmed by the loss of his mortal body.  I had watched his body die for months, and it was a great gift to understand that none of us are home here on earth.  In the midst of daily life, it’s difficult to remember this world here is not eternal.  I think the suffering taught me the reality of eternity and the reality of Heaven.  If I hadn’t seen or felt death in this life, I’m not sure Heaven would be as real to me now.  I think for us to live boldly, Heaven has to be real to us.

Christan:  During those seven months of suffering, what did your other relationships look like? 

Susan: I’m a doer. And Brian was really ill.  I do have regrets… part of me wishes I had been around more.  But for me to be fully with him, I had to have service elsewhere.  During the last three months of Brian’s life, I was tutoring a student… that really helped me.  It wasn’t a lot, but it did help.

In terms of our marriage, it was hard because he couldn’t give much to it.  I like to think I’m so independent, but you need somebody.  We sought counsel from friends.  There were times that I needed help with daily things, but Brian was fighting for his life.  We needed people who were right there with us, walking alongside us, helping us while we were literally falling apart.

Christan:  Did you feel that cancer and losing Brian was a punishment from God?

Susan: Overall, I knew God was calling us to walk through what we did.  Between surgery and radiation, I remember thinking, “This is what I get for marrying a Maynor.” (Brian had three brothers.) The Maynor boys live their lives so gracefully and faithfully, and Brian was all about making things more beautiful — rehabbing a broken house, serving in community, giving to those in need. He did whatever he could do to help others. I believed God was calling us to navigate cancer. But I also thought Brian would suffer, get healed, and then go help people with his story. I put it in a little box because that felt safe.

But in my darkest moments, at night especially, I remember battling through my thoughts.  I reflected on sin patterns in my life, as well as actions I had done years ago in my youth. I faced irrational fears and choking guilt. I forced myself to disengage from that dark place because I knew that wasn’t how the Gospel works.  But in my brokenness and fear, that’s the place I was in. And it is part of the story.  God reminded me that what He did on the cross was enough.  I had to get to that dark spot of suffering before I could really see.

Christan: Seven years later, do you ever go back to that spot?

Susan: Not really.  I can see growth in my life.  When God puts something in my life that I question, I try and embrace it and know that God is going to teach me something. I understand why He gives us hard things. In those moments, I feel like God breaks idols in my life and replaces them with Him.

Christan: How did you heal?  You seem like you’re whole again.

Susan: Even though there’s healing, there are always scars.  And those scars are good because they’re reminders of how the story is so much bigger than our story alone. They remind me of why the cross had to happen.  If the cross didn’t happen, where would Brian be?  Would I be walking around wondering where my husband is now?  Would he just be dust?  There’s so much of the resurrection story woven through my own story. If the emotional pain flairs, the resurrection is always a reminder of the greatness and redemption. Jesus had his scars.  Scars are a reminder of my growth, my perseverance, my maturity in knowing God deeper because I really think that’s all this life is about… It’s all about getting to know God, walking with Him and giving Him my heart.  It’s really not about whether or not we have a beautiful house or where our kids go to school. Even though that’s directly in front of us, suffering allows us to step back and remember this life is all about knowing Jesus more, about being more Christ-like in all that I do, and being part of His redemption story.

I think brokenness and suffering have to happen because we need to come to grips with our fragility. We have to. It’s too easy in this life — if we never suffer – to miss seeing and knowing God as He truly is.  We see God’s greatest strength and power through when He Himself was the most broken—the cross.

It took a while to heal. It was about three years before I felt as though my feet were firmly on the ground again. When I looked back on my life prior to Brian’s death, I realized I no longer fit where I did before. God had changed me. The reality of knowing my former husband is whole again in Heaven changed the way I think about my life, my world, and the people with whom I engaged. I think there comes a point when there is no more oozing from the wound, but the scar is there.  And it will always be there.  The scar points to God, not Brian.

Christan: What advice would you give to those who know someone suffering from cancer?

Susan: I think the community of believers and the Church struggle with being authentic.  We don’t want to step on toes, we want to be proper, we don’t want to invade privacy, we want to respect boundaries, we follow rules.  But when a person or family is facing extreme crisis, the navigation is overwhelming and almost impossible alone.  Looking back, in the midst of the diagnosis and all that followed, I felt as if I was in a cloud.  When you’re in grief like that — denial, anger, fear – the cloud is present all the time.  Because of that cloud, it’s important to help those suffering navigate through their circumstances.

Try to be intentional. And try to have no expectations.  If God is pushing on your heart, just do it.  Give, show up, serve that family — just do it.  Don’t wait for someone to say it’s okay. We all struggle as humans with needing validation.  Try to have zero expectations and don’t expect the person in crisis to give you anything back — even validating your service to them.  We have to step past your own egos and self-interest and do what God asks us to do for them.

One family gifted our family with money so I didn’t have to go back to work right away.  A group of Brian’s college friends hired a nanny for a year… they didn’t ask permission because the need was so glaring. Another friend came over to just be with me, so I wouldn’t have to be alone. Someone else anonymously mailed me a gift each month after the first anniversary of Brian’s passing.  For twelve months, I received things like a Starbucks gift card, a book, a picture frame —  they were all very intentional items. It blessed me so much, for I felt alone and scared.  To this day, I don’t know who that gift giver was. So, even if it feels a bit scary, just do it. Trust God’s leading.

Christan: And what advice would you give someone who is watching his or her spouse suffer with cancer?

Susan: Every journey is personal. I wish I could tell people how things will unfold. My advice is to accept that you are not in control. You aren’t in control of the healing.  You aren’t in control of anything.  I learned that God is in control as I walked through suffering.  Regardless of how much I yelled and fussed at Him, God was going to unfold His story the way He designed it to be… for Brian, for me, for our kids.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I didn’t want to be needy, but it became impossible to not ask for help. When things were intense, there were emotional chasms between Brian and I because I simply couldn’t reach Brian. He felt like a million miles away. We went to friends and asked them to pray with us and be with us. We were so scared — but not too scared to ask for help.

When it comes to cancer, always hope, always hope for healing. But in that hope, we must surrender to the truth that God is going to do what He’s going to do. And with surrendering comes the call to persevere, cling to hope, and believe we’re absolutely in the hand of God (even if it doesn’t feel like that).  In retrospect, I know there was not a moment I wasn’t in God’s hand, even in the pain, even in the fear. I remember coming home from the hospital after Brian had passed and sitting on my bed with my door shut. “Now what?” I thought. “I’m alone with two babies. What am I going to do?” But I was never alone. God is always constant, and He’s true to His faithfulness. Seek that. Understand that.

Christan: What advice do you have for widows and widowers who also have children?

Susan: Again, everybody has his or her own journey.  As a parent, I have to honor that with my children. I made an intentional decision to never put my children in a position where they had to be more than my children to me.  Meaning, they aren’t my husband.  They aren’t my mother or my brother.  And they shouldn’t have to relate  like more than my children to me. Their needs came before mine because they were three and one years old. They were so little when Brian passed, so their grief has come a little later in their lives when certain realities hit them. I’ve tried to pay attention. I’ve sought the help of a counselor for my kids. Children are unique individuals, and their walk through grief will look different than your own. I often hear that kids are resilient. That’s true, but they also feel. Communication is huge. When questions are asked, answer your children honestly and promote more dialogue. Children absorb everything, no matter how old they are.

Christan: Finally, how has God redeemed your suffering?

Susan: I believe redemption began right in the middle of it all. God has given me opportunities to directly embrace His work in ways I never imagined—as a mother, as an educator, as a visual storyteller—work that I couldn’t possibly do without the Lord’s strength and help. He’s given me work I may not have entertained if I had been married because of the scope and timing. I’ve been part of things that are so much bigger than me.

God’s also transformed me. I’m willing to be uncomfortable now. I almost pursue uncomfortable situations because I know I’m going to see God in them. Also, God’s given us a family far beyond our dreams. He’s brought someone into my life and given me a second partner in this life. He’s brought an earthly father for my children. Not having expectations has brought me to a point where I surrender to God’s timing. And in God’s timing, He brought the right man to make us a family of four.

Suffering has changed the way I walk through life. When you live without the boxes you used to put in place, when you live without having to control, you experience inexplicable fulfillment and peace and a life far more than we could ever imagine.


Accept we are not in control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Always hope.

Yes, we gain so much through losing.  We are changed creatures when we finally face and embrace the story God has written for us — the story that is often painfully bitter.  We find freedom when we surrender.  We find healing when we admit our wounds.  We help others when we look back on our own helpless pain.  It’s all so ironic.  

Join me tomorrow as Susan shares an update on where she is in 2016. 

photo source | Jen Palmer

Series on Suffering: An Eating Disorder (Update)

eatingdisorderYesterday you read Julie’s story of battling an eating disorder. Covering up issues of comparison, perfectionism, and loneliness, she turned to eating for comfort in college. This led her down a dangerous path toward numbness. By admitting her addiction and accepting help, Julie eventually found health, wellness, and wholeness.

But what has the last four years brought?


My situation has changed a lot since 2012. I have had two babies and two miscarriages. We have moved halfway across the country — my husband and I left a difficult situation in Iowa and have found a healing and loving home here in South Carolina. I left a part-time job I loved in Iowa and have been trying to find something to fill that part of my life since we got here. My husband is no longer doing campus ministry but is an assistant pastor at a church, changing our schedule and type of ministry we are both involved in. So, a lot has changed for our family (mostly for the good), and we are thankful for how God is working in our lives right now and believe He is giving us a reprieve from some of our past struggles.

In the time since first sharing my story on Repurposed, I have continued in my recovery with the occasional ups and downs that are expected. However, I’ve had two notable situations where I felt it was quite possible for a major relapse to happen.

While there were many positive aspects of our life in Iowa, we experienced a difficult relational situation that was overwhelming for me. I felt like I was being knocked down, only to get back up and be knocked down again. I couldn’t find footing, and the relationship was deteriorating despite attempts at reconciliation on both sides. I was anxious and stressed and experienced a loss of appetite, which was new for me. In the midst of this, I was coming out of postpartum depression that I had following the birth of my firstborn and attributed some of my loss of appetite and anxiety to that.

I distinctly remember thinking one day while processing my feelings, “I don’t have to eat. No one is making me. And if I don’t, I will lose so much weight that perhaps I will be loved. Someone will notice my hurt and take care of me.”

Those are the exact thoughts I had when my eating disorder first appeared: “Maybe I will get sick enough that my mom will love me and come take care of me.” I realized I was using my eating disorder to gain the love, affection, and sense of worth I was hoping for, and there was a part of me that was trying to do it again.

This time, though, I was able to recognize my thoughts as lies. I knew this was faulty thinking, but I wasn’t strong enough to fight back with Truth on my own. Thankfully, I was able to process with my husband and have a few Skype sessions with my previous counselor. They both pointed me back to Truth by helping me focus on the Gospel. I was reminded again to find my worth in Jesus instead of other people.

The second instance where major relapse was looming was after I had my first miscarriage. I was twelve weeks along when I lost the baby, and we had just announced the pregnancy to everyone. We were overjoyed when we found out we were pregnant for a second time because we struggle with infertility. We were so thankful that Samuel would have a sibling. We felt truly blessed and I felt like I saw God’s hand at work in giving us a second child. All these happy feelings fell apart when a heartbeat couldn’t be found at one of my appointments. I was devastated. I couldn’t understand what God was doing or why He was doing it, and I felt like I couldn’t handle life. The disordered eating thoughts spiraled through my head as they had done many times before. I was so tired and sad that it was hard to fight against them, but by the grace of God, I was able to recognize the thoughts and again name them as lies.

The biggest piece of my recovery has been learning to “take every thought captive” and to combat the lies with the Truth of the Gospel. It is amazing to me where I am in my recovery. I never expected to be at a place now where I don’t think about food so often, where I don’t have the disordered eating thoughts so often, and where I don’t think about my weight and compare myself to others so often. Those things happen now and again, but not with the same frequency and intensity as before. I never thought that was even a possibility for me. I thought I would struggle and fight every day for the rest of my life. But God has been gracious. He has revealed His Truth and His love to me. He has protected me.

While I would not have chosen for an eating disorder to be part of my story, I feel like God has used it to teach me a lot about His character and love. He’s also used my struggle to help me encourage others. Sometimes a woman who is struggling with disordered eating just needs to know she is not alone and that hope and recovery are possible. God has allowed me to share my story more openly in recent years, listening to and encouraging others who struggle in similar ways.

Recently, my two year old daughter has started to proclaim “I so pretty!”, and I love this so much! She can have marker on her face, mismatched clothes, or a tear stained face from an earlier temper tantrum, but she still confidently states “I so pretty!” Her worth is not found in how “good” she looks or if she has been a “good” girl. She simply knows that she is pretty.

This is my hope and prayer for all of us — that we can confidently proclaim we are beautiful because we are God’s children. I want us to lean into the fact that He sent His son to die for us because he loved us so much despite our imperfection and mess. Because of Jesus, our worth and value is not bound up in how good we look on the outside or how beautiful we are on the inside. We are made “pretty” by becoming daughters of the King through Jesus. I hope my daughter will always be able to say “I so pretty”, and I hope that holds true for you and I as well.

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Series on Suffering: An Eating Disorder

eatingdisorderIf you’re just joining us, we are in the middle of a four-week Series on Suffering. We’ve heard from a dad of a disabled girl and a woman who miscarried and adopted a son who was later diagnosed with hemophilia. The original Series on Suffering was created back in 2012 and appeared on my first blog. I’m posting those interviews with these brave people this whole month, but I’m including an update — written by each of them — on how they’re doing in 2016.

Also back in 2012, I published a series on body image. Today’s story — Julie’s story — was actually part of that body image collection rather than the Series on Suffering. It fits well here, though, among the stories of suffering, and for some reason I felt strongly compelled to include it for you all at this moment in time. May God’s story of redemption reach even the most hopeless of situations… including those plagued by anorexia and bulimia.

Be sure to return to Repurposed tomorrow, for Julie has prepared an honest and vulnerable update on all that’s unfolded since her first interview.

Even if you’ve never wrestled with an eating disorder, many of Julie’s wounds might be mirrors to your own. We just respond to pain differently. Read on, my brave friends…


The Pain Is Born
I grew up in a family with both parents and was the middle of three daughters.  Because my parents had high expectations for their children, we always felt the pressure to perform.  Perform perfectly.  I grew up thinking that to be loved I had to be perfect.  I desperately wanted my mom and dad to love me and to be proud of me.  Looking back, I now understand they did love me, but they didn’t show love the way I needed it — through words of affirmation or physical touch.  They never gave hugs or said “I love you.”

My sisters felt the same pressure, but I never felt I measured up to them — especially my older sister.  She’s quite intelligent and performed exceptionally well in school.  Really, in all she did.  I discovered in fourth grade that my younger sister was also especially gifted.  While I was smart, I wasn’t as smart as them.  And because my family put a lot of importance on intelligence, grades, and success, I felt like I was always the one behind.  As a child, I decided that if I couldn’t be the smart one, I would be the “good” one.  I followed all the rules and did everything my parents told me.  And I was very successful at this — all the way through high school.  I played the role of peacemaker in my family and tried to be perfect at being good. 

But I was empty inside.  I had no genuine relationships.  All my worth hinged on the fact that I was “good.”  In high school, I realized I had gained some weight and was slightly bigger than my older sister.  I wasn’t okay with this, so I began to diet on-and-off.  I even tried diet pills.  I’d lose a little weight, stop dieting, and then gain a little back.  For two years.

The Pain Becomes an Expression
I went to college and was so lonely.  Loneliness was the most terrible feeling in the world.  I joined a sorority but didn’t fit in.  I didn’t make friends, and I was miserable.  At this point, I started eating for comfort.  I’d consume large amounts of food and then over-exercise to compensate.  I really hated exercising.  And for a while, I gave it up, which led to weight gain.  Back home my mom was on a diet of her own (a really unhealthy diet and exercise program), and she lost lots of weight.  I’d compare myself to her and to my sisters, and I felt huge.

I was still desperately lonely and actually thought, “If I had an eating disorder and got really sick, then my mom would come and rescue me.  And I would know I was loved.”

My parents were fighting frequently, and I realized I had no one to talk to about this.  My loneliness was so desperate that I started wondering if life was really worth living.  I didn’t want to be alive anymore, but I really couldn’t act on that feeling.  Food continued to be my comfort — almost a friend.  Eating numbed my feelings of depression.  I didn’t want to gain weight, so I started forcing myself to throw up.  I figured that if I could vomit regularly and lose a little weight, then I’d be happy and eventually could stop.

That never happened.

The Expression Becomes Flagrant
My eating disorder became a full-fledged addiction.  I could not give it up.  I used it to numb my feelings. I didn’t feel pain, but I also didn’t feel joy.

I felt completely ugly, both inside and out.  But even though I wasn’t “pretty” on the inside, I could control how I looked on the outside.  My disorder enabled me eat whenever and whatever  I wanted without gaining weight.  I felt a sense of power and rebellion against my mom (and her diets) in this. 

But in reality, the eating disorder had complete control over me.

Eventually my illness got so bad that I would binge and purge every single time I ate.  It was during this time I met a new friend named Abbey.  She pursued me and cared enough to actually confront me about my eating disorder.  I talked with her, attended a Bible study she recommended, and attended church with her.  And I became a believer in Christ.

This was a wonderful time of growth and love for the Lord, but I still was unable to give up my eating disorder.  I was afraid to let anyone in and to actually experience true emotions.

I would try to stop binging and purging, but I’d always fail.  I felt terribly guilty that I was a Christian yet could not stop this addiction.  After a while, I allowed myself to believe I was always going to struggle with an eating disorder.  Although I wasn’t binging and purging everything I ate, I was still throwing up every day.  I wanted to control my weight, but it was also a way for me to control the pain I still felt.

This lifestyle went on for six years.

The Pain Impacts My Marriage
While dating Josh, I told him I had struggled with an eating disorder in the past.  We dated long-distance, so he never really knew how bad things were, and I convinced myself that it really wasn’t that bad.

Our first year of marriage was a complete shock to both of us.  I was good at first at hiding my bulimia, but Josh eventually came to know the truth.  I fell into a deep depression again and struggled to want to keep living.  After that first year, my depression was a bit more under control, and I realized how damaging my illness was to Josh and our marriage.  I agreed to go to counseling.

My first counselor tried to help heal the eating disorder with behavioral tactics.  If I didn’t throw up, then I could do a fun activity, etc.  This was not helpful at all!  I was completely consumed with thoughts of food and my weight.  I truly thought I’d never be able to change.

The Pain Finds Healing
I found a new counselor who walked me through my past and helped me cry — helped me mourn — some of the things I felt as a child.  She helped me feel emotions, and this gave me hope that life could be different.  I didn’t want to keep hiding my binging and purging.  I was spending a lot of time and money on my bulimia, and my thoughts were constantly on food and comparing myself to other women.

At this time, I also met a woman who was two years into recovery from an eating disorder.  She gave me hope that, by God’s grace, it was possible to find healing and be free of the control my illness had over me.

I decided then to enroll in treatment for four weeks in Salt Lake City, UT.  The first day was the absolute hardest.  Much of my independence was taken away.  And because I was actually at a healthy weight, I felt like the biggest woman in the room.  After the initial shock, I adjusted to life at the treatment center.  Recovery started slowly, but I eventually realized I didn’t want to be as skinny as some of the women there.

We were asked to say positive things about our bodies, and I always said I had a good home for a baby someday.  The thought of being healthy enough to have children gave me hope for the future.

A lot of healing took place in Utah.  We weren’t allowed to watch T.V. or read magazines, so I spent a lot of time reading Scripture, praying, journaling, and doing “homework” for my counselors.  Because of the T.V. and magazine restriction, I wasn’t bombarded with air-brushed perfection on a regular basis.  I finally started to gain a healthier view of how our bodies were created to look.

Lessons Learned
I learned to listen to my body.  Am I hungry?  Or am I sad?  For what is my body hungry?  I learned to take all restrictions away from food.  If I was hungry for ice cream, then I ate ice cream.  By breaking down all the unhealthy food rules I had built up, I learned my body actually knew how to balance food on it’s own.  I learned to eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full.  I learned it’s okay to have second helpings, and it’s okay to leave food on my plate.

I also learned that if I ate emotionally every once in a while, it was okay.  It didn’t mean I had failed.  I learned to live in the gray instead of being black and white, especially in regards to eating and food.

A huge breakthrough for me was learning that each of our bodies have a “set point.”  That’s how we are created.  When healthy, we’ll hover around this set point.  That was so freeing for me.  I had been trying to manipulate my body to a size it wasn’t meant to be, to a size that God didn’t intend for me.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This message resonated with me on my road to healing.  “Workmanship” can be translated as “work of art.”  This means that I am God’s work of art.  If this was true, who was I to try to change and manipulate the artist’s work, especially when the artist is the Creator of the Universe?!  Who was I to judge what was beautiful and what was not, when God created each of us in His image, making us His work of art?!  I felt beautiful knowing that I was created a certain, unique way that was beautiful to the Lord.

This was all very helpful, but I still struggled to feel “beautiful” on the inside.  I was engulfed in shame and guilt about my eating disorder.  I was also drowning in inferiority, knowing I couldn’t stand up to the world’s expectations of perfection. I didn’t feel smart.  And now I didn’t feel “good.”

A counselor told me that those suffering from eating disorders usually let positive comments “bounce off” and only internalize the bad.  I realized I had been doing this very behavior — listening and believing all the negative things and disregarding the positive.  I sat down and listed all the things that currently made up my self-worth, most of which were negative.

I then listed all the things that should make up my self worth and ended up with “I am a child a God.”  That was all.  That is what makes me, and you, worthwhile — simply because we are God’s children, His beautiful workmanship.  My worth is not derived from what I do or don’t do — it is simply found in the fact that I am a child of God, created by Him.

I also learned to listen to my thoughts and take them captive to the Lord.  Without really realizing it, I was thinking awful things.  If you eat that, you’ll be fat.  You aren’t important  and you will always have an eating disorder, so why are you even trying to get better?  You will fail.  You are a failure — the only way to feel better is to binge and purge.  These thoughts were constantly bombarding me, and I was believing the lies.  I learned to listen to my thoughts, recognize them, and combat them with the Truth.  I memorized some Scripture and would recite it when I caught myself thinking these thoughts.

Julie Today
Recovery has not been a perfect road.  There are ups and downs, successes and relapses.  But, the relapses are less frequent and less severe as time goes on.  It’s been six years since I went to treatment in Utah, and I’m currently in my best place of recovery yet.  I realize this is a weak area in my life, and I’m sure I’m in a much better place (emotionally and mentally) because of God’s grace.

To family and friends of a woman with an eating disorder, tell her and show her you love her.  Often.  Tell her she is beautiful on the inside and out.  Don’t make comments about weight and food, but do encourage her to get the help she needs.  I needed a firm hand to lead me in that direction because I wouldn’t do it on my own.  I needed to know I was hurting my husband, the very husband who was loving me unconditionally.

To those of you who are struggling with an eating disorder, you are precious and loved.  You are a beautiful creation who is loved more than you realize by your Heavenly Father.  There.  Is. Hope.   There really can be recovery.  And while it’s hard, it’s completely worth it.  My prayers are with you.

julie


See you tomorrow, friends…