The Woman from 2009

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Gentle Reader,

It’s uncomfortable, sticking that picture of myself in this post.

But there’s a reason.

The other night Chris decided that he would take our camera, which we never use (hello, smartphones) to work. He needed to use it to take pictures of new employees at the hospital for their security badges. As he checked and cleared the SD cards, he came across this random photo.

From 2009.

The image of this woman upsets me. She hasn’t yet started to feel crappy all the time. She hasn’t yet been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Her skin is smoother. Her smile brighter. Her eyebrows need some work. She hasn’t yet succumbed to anxiety so bad it sends her into a pit of depression and despair.

There is so much ahead of her.

I study myself in the mirror today. I see the perpetual dark circles under my eyes. I see the roundness in my face. Skin forever itchy and marked. My hand absently strokes the lumpy, bumpy swathe of abdomen, wrecked forever by surgery and scar tissue. Stupid liver. Stupid chronic fatigue.

I wish I looked like the woman in that picture. (I wish I could fit into her size 8 jeans).

It’s sad and strange.

No amount of caloric restriction will flatten my belly. No amount of make-up can fully cover the dark circles. Nor can sleep, even double-digit hours at a time. No matter how hard I try, I can’t will myself into more energy. I can’t stop the aching in my joints. I can’t predict the days when I’ll spend my time throwing up.

I long for a time machine.

To go back and be that woman again.

The longing has stayed with me for a week now, ever since I first saw that picture. Some part of my brain, the part that has bought into the lies that thinness and a frantic pace equal happiness, keeps trying to work out the equation for time-travel. Or at least a miracle drug to make my sad liver happy again. (No, organic kale is not the fix. Sorry). I keep straying back to, “If I could look like that again…” “If I could do it over…” “It would be better if…”

Another part of my brain, the part that has learned to listen for the arresting voice of the Holy Spirit, knows better.

Most of the time, I don’t actually care that I’m a size 12. (There, you know). I have a better relationship with food now. I never exercised back then. These days I get out and take walks and have even done a little weight lifting here at home recently. I can’t change the fact that my health problems have caused me to gain weight. I see and hear women who are obsessed with being “skinny” (though they often couch it in terms of “being healthy”). All they talk about is food – what they do eat, what they don’t eat, how they eat it. They feel superior to heavier women and then judge themselves if the scale moves up an ounce. They make me roll my eyes because it’s not worth it. There’s no point in attaching a sense of value or self to the numbers on a scale or the number on a label in a item of clothing.

I’d rather have a lumpy, blobby stomach than a tumor. That big ol’ scar is a badge of honor. A mark of battle..

I don’t want to go back to straightening my hair every day. It takes too much time and it never, ever lasts longer than an hour. I’d rather sleep.

Same goes for eye make-up. I used to wear it all the time. Now…who cares if I do or don’t put on mascara? Big whoop. I have other things to focus on.

I was going through a rough patch, friendship-wise, back then. Now, at 31 (in a week), I’m learning that friends come and go. Closeness waxes and wanes. Things change. People change. It can be painful, but ultimately it’s okay.

This woman held a lot of resentment toward her husband. Chris and I don’t have a perfect or easy marriage today, but it’s far, far better than it was.

I remain neurotic, but back then I was far less comfortable with myself. Back in that day, which was probably a Tuesday, I was usually far too afraid to share my opinions. I let people manipulate and steamroll me. This blog was a whole lot blander. Though I try to be wise in what I say and how I say it, I’m now much freer in sharing what I think. I’m also better at spotting the manipulating and the steamrolling.

In 2009 I barely had an inkling of what it meant to be close to the Lord. Hardship has brought me near to Him. It has pushed me to climb up into His lap, onto His shoulders. I thirst for His word. I ache to know Him more. My ear is tuned to the sound of His heartbeat. I want to love Him more, obey Him closely, sit and bask in His glory. This, I would not trade for anything.

In a surprising plot twist, I realize that the woman from 2009 longed to be the woman I am today.

Isn’t that odd? So often we look back on the past with the proverbial rose-colored glasses. Or we look off into the future. We forget to appreciate now. Today.

Perhaps, like me, you also entertain the “what if?” kind of thoughts. Perhaps you have longed to “go back.” Or judged yourself today because you aren’t as thin, as young, as busy, as influential, as wealthy, as whatever as you were then. Perhaps you shut your eyes tight and hope to plow through and into a brighter tomorrow, ignoring these 24 hours. Dear one, you are missing the blessing of right now. You are missing the good things that God is doing. You are blind to the joy and the peace and the love and the happiness that shower you as His beloved child, even in the middle of horrendous storms.

Step away from the then and back off from tomorrow. Don’t miss this moment.

This beautiful, wonderful moment.

I’m abandoning my work in the time-travel field. I’ll stay the “plus sized,” Medusa-haired, tired-eyed person I am. It’s better.

I’m better.

Because God is good. He loved me as I was – and loved me too much to let me stay there.

My journey to faith. (15)

Consider Your Ways

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Studying the book of Ezra means studying the books of Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets who figure prominently in the Ezra storyline. One identified himself as a young man (Zechariah 2:4). The other was probably an old man (Haggai 2:3 may point to Haggai having seen the Temple before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it). It’s possible that they both returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel/Sheshbazzar, though they are not named among the company (Ezra 2).

These somewhat-murky figures serve as God’s megaphone to a discouraged and distracted people. In no way am I condemning the Jewish people. I don’t blame them for being discouraged and distracted. Rebuilding the Temple (and Jerusalem itself, as seen in the book of Nehemiah) was no easy task. Opposition came from all sides. I understand why many of them threw up their hands and looked to reestablishing their own homes (Haggai 1:4).

It’s a picture of the fear and wrong priorities I have all too often.

Onto the page the ink spilled. These men of God begin to speak.

Haggai says, “Consider your ways” (1:5)

Our English “consider” is made up of three separate Hebrew words:

Sum/siym: to put, place, set, appoint, make; direct

Lebab: inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding

‘al: upon, on the ground of, according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, beyond, above, over, by, on to, towards, to, against

Direct your mind. Set your will. Make an account of what you’re doing.

Think about it.

Really think about it.

Haggai is calling his people to obedience. He is telling them to examine their priorities. He hearkens back to Ezra 3:3, when they built the altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord “despite their fear of the peoples around them” (NIV). He is reminding them. Drawing their minds back to what truly matters.

They were suffering through drought, famine and scarcity because they had forgotten their first love. Haggai’s voice, perhaps gravelly and low-pitched with age, demands their attention. He speaks the message of God. He tells them that they need to get down the business of restoring the Temple, restoring worship. Blessing would flow from their obedience.

They can do this. They can respond positively.

They can because they are not alone. They are not left to grapple with the overwhelming rubble and the sneering, hostile pagans. “I am with you, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:13)

We don’t have to stretch far to make the application to our own lives.

God does not promise to prosper us materially. The Church is not national Israel; the way the covenant blessings are applied to us is different. Yet He does promise to bless and keep us as we seek to please Him (check out the entire book of Ephesians for a plethora of examples). When our priorities are right and we seek to obey Him, we are graced with love, peace, joy and fulfillment – even if the circumstances remain difficult. We walk in the assurance of knowing we have done what’s right.

I didn’t want to hear this today. Didn’t want to read these words of Haggai.

Here’s the unspoken thought behind all this: Obedience costs something. Yes, the rewards are great. But the cost can be great, too. The returned exiles had to defy pretty much everyone from the king on down as they began the work once more. They faced harassment at best, death at worst. It was no joke to do what they did. (Further on in the story we find out that some of the officials in the area contacted King Darius about it. King Darius winds up saying, “Yeah, leave them alone – better than that, do whatever you can to help them. And have them offer some sacrifices for me and my sons.” Nobody knew that this was going to be the outcome, though).

Obeying God is worth the cost. I know that. He’s proven Himself faithful. I know that I must fear (reverence) Him and not those whose only power is to kill me (Matthew 10:28). (Not that I think anyone is going to kill me. I’m not paranoid. It’s just a principle about the place of God and the place of people in my life).

Still. In my smallness, in my humanness, I fear.

There are two lengthy blog posts in my drafts queue. Publishing one of them, let alone both of them, is scary. I don’t want to deal with the potential fallout. I don’t want to wade through nasty comments. I want to pretend that the things never happened. That I don’t know about them. That everything is fine and wonderful.

I can’t. I know I can’t.

I must consider my ways.

Set my priorities.

Obey God.

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Free

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Bouncing between intense headaches and nausea all week.

This is will be brief.

Kate and the writers focus on: free.

Go.

Be kind to your sick friends.

We long to be free.

We don’t want to miss special events. We don’t want to be stuck in our homes. We don’t want to worry about our finances because we miss work. We don’t want to be in pain. We don’t want to be weak.

If you’re with me tonight, longing for a body that doesn’t hate you, enjoy these jokes. They make me smile:

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I hope you at least chuckled a little.

We need these little bright spots on the tough days.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)